By Jonathon Van Maren
One of my earliest memories is the realization that chickens are people, too.
When I was still small, my dad set up a chicken coop in our backyard, built a pen, and headed off to various livestock auctions and hatcheries to start building our flock. We had wispy white silkies, crown-crested Polish chickens, foot-feathered Cochins, and all sorts of miniature Bantams, which were the perfect size for children.
Every morning before school, I lugged buckets of water and feed out to the coop; every afternoon after school, we all bolted for the poultry pen (which also featured a few ornery pygmy goats, some ducks, and whatever else we could wheedle Dad into purchasing.) They came running out to meet us, crooning and clucking in anticipation of the bread we’d bring them.
They all had names. Number Ten Hen was my brother’s chicken, a little black Bantam with a #10 auction band around her foot. Her sister, Small Hen, was mine, and she would croon sweetly when we stroked her feathers until they were shiny from our sweaty hands. Orange Rooster, another unfortunate recipient of our naming creativity, gleamed the color of Anne of Green Gables’ hair and spent much of his time preening for the Bantam sisters.
We had a long-legged Bantam rooster named Colman, after Billy Colman of Where the Red Fern Grows, and his wife, Long-Legged Hen (yes, I now realize that my parents must have found this all hysterical.) Goat Rooster was a little chick that got bullied by the other chickens and finally abandoned the coop to live in the calf hutch with Marigold and Snowball, the goats who frequently birthed kids the size of tiny kittens.
Chickens are all very curious and covetous creatures. They can be pecking lustily at leftover cake or croissants, but if you toss a rock across the pasture, they will abandon their meal in an instant and go streaking after the pebble, determined to be the first one to secure the prize. They are also very envious and will abandon a large piece of bread for a much smaller one that their friend is gobbling because she looks to be enjoying herself so much.